In a recent IG Live Kalosophie Co-Founder Agata Bienias had the pleasure of catching up with Victoria Ferguson, Vancouver Makeup Artist and Founder of EAST 29TH ~ a Vancouver based clean skincare brand that launched it's first product during Covid-19 and is quickly becoming a cult favourite among Vancouverites. The Vital Serum is designed to simplify your routine by combining Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, Lemon Rind Extract with Vitamins C & E to create the essential all-in-one serum.
We're excited to share this extended and frank dialogue between Agata and Victoria with you here on the Kalosoblog. We invite you to learn more about the inspiration behind the brand, Victoria's ethos, her newly launched Empathy Everywhere Podcast and so much more.
Victoria, how did your journey to launching EAST 29TH begin and what was your inspiration?
Going through pregnancy and puberty simultaneously set the tone for East 29th well before I was aware. After becoming pregnant at 14 and giving birth at 15, I struggled with hormonal acne from puberty and the increased pregnancy hormones. Once postpartum, I was still going through puberty and there wasn’t skincare that catered to those needs. This stayed with me for years as I had the opportunity, as a film & television makeup artist, to try out products for multiple skin issues beyond just my own. I always felt like the market was overly saturated with products without the solutions or knowledge. After being introduced to preserving lemons due to their rinds being healthy for us to ingest, I researched the physical and mental health benefits associated with adding lemon rinds in various forms when I realized the potential. I began playing with different recipes and visualized the pores on my face as little mouths deserving to be nourished. After much creativity in the kitchen, it became therapeutic and resulted in a handful of products that changed my skin. I had no intention of releasing them for anyone else. However, my bare skin was often mistaken for wearing foundation, which sparked multiple conversations that finally convinced me I could help others, too.
East 29th inherently named itself; it was the four walls that housed my personal growth from young adulthood into who I am today. It’s where all of my son’s childhood memories are held and where I created my skincare. I knew we’d eventually surpass that home’s physical form, but emotionally it can never be outgrown.
Our first product, The Vital Serum, while essential, it has duality in meaning. My son and I are from St. Vital in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I like to playfully say Welcome Home to anyone who uses it.
What distinguishes EAST 29TH from other Brands in the beauty space?
What distinguishes us from other skincare brands is our knowledge that where their journey of providing you with better skin ends, ours is just beginning. Being a mom before becoming an adult, figuring out my passions, career in TV & Film, and creating this brand has influenced my decisions in such a unique way. I've lived a selfless life, knowing the importance of honouring others' needs instead of listening to my wants. East 29th is a direct reflection of that. I think brands often create too many products, causing new problems to then solve. You won't find us trying to up-sell you, but you will find us trying to uplift you. Simply put, it's personal.
You recently launched your Podcast Empathy Everywhere – can you please tell us more about the podcast and your inspiration?
East 29th's mission is to establish a conscious dialogue that connects both the physical and mental health awareness behind the clean beauty movement while embodying a mindful transition to being seen and felt. With this empathy-driven dialogue, we as a whole are able to be more compassionate, so we can hear instead of just respond.
The Empathy Everywhere Podcast is the self-care portion of East 29th. We've wrapped up season one, with episodes including mental health, trusting our intuition, healing from trauma, internal imbalances, understanding empathy & how we can lead from a human-first perspective in our personal & work lives. Season two is currently in the works.
We are empathy-driven due to the simple understanding that we can only meet others as deep as we've met ourselves. Like us, we know our audience is full of open-minded individuals who believe in the importance of developing a world that is more compassionate and self-aware. If anyone finds this podcast and I can help them feel less alone… that's why I’m doing it. East 29th and Empathy Everywhere are love letters from my current self to anyone in similar shoes of my past self. I truly felt alone for well over a decade in a sense of my unique journey, and struggles.
How would you like your brand to impact the those who choose to use your products and the beauty space?
I’d love for East 29th to have a hand in helping those who use our products be softer inside and out. Emphasis on the inside. It sounds so simple, but sometimes we just need a gentle reminder. To view our blemishes, uneven skin tone or texture as a dialogue between skin and self to learn the language of our skin, including what it means internally instead of just covering it up. To help make the shift of being mindful over having a full mind.
I’ve designed East 29th to simplify routines by combining what would typically be in multiple products in only the essentials. If we remove clutter in our space, we reduce it in our minds. Long term, this means fewer products are filling our environment while also implementing minimalistic and essential solutions for our skincare needs. In a product-driven world, purpose and empathy are what drives us. The skincare industry is overly saturated. What’s common is over-delivering products and underdelivering knowledge. When East 29th hit the market, I knew that we needed to help solve this problem, not add to it. I’m looking at how we can help evolve the dialogue and standards of our industry.
I found a new home within the pivot from creating characters on set to creating confidence off-screen.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
It wasn’t as much advice I had received, but more so what I had perceived through my mom’s actions. I grew up with two parents who had careers while carving out being entrepreneurs on the side. She started small by doing income taxes out of a store they owned which eventually led to opening an office and then many, eventually my dad learning to do taxes, too. Every year they would up their rates to adjust with competitors. Still, my mom had elderly clients she had for years, and she had empathy for their financial situations. I overheard one call in particular that has resonated with me where she maintained their integrity, along with her standards. She called to let one lady know she was (as per year) having to raise their base fee, and then I heard her explain it would be ten cents more. There was a lot of compassion in her voice. She unknowingly taught me a lot about having empathy in the workplace—a human-first perspective. I’ve always kept this in mind. I used to listen on the kitchen phone, which gives me a great sense of nostalgia thinking back to twirling the cord attached to the wall. I don’t think she knows I listened, but I did. To this day, regardless of what is happening around her she shows up and runs a tight ship. I’m very proud.
What has been your biggest obstacle so far?
The biggest obstacle was figuring out our initial launch. I took marketing management and financial accounting courses online while I was juggling working overtime in the film industry with being a full-time single mom. That being said, another main challenge I faced was finding the time to make what I had personally made for myself into more significant quantities.
I have sensitive skin, which is a large part of why I started this journey, so testing on myself and my eczema patches (head to toe) and watching my skin transform made this challenge worthwhile, knowing I’d be able to help so many others in similar situations. The Vital Serum is not just for your face; it’s for any area of skin.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur just starting their journey in launching a new brand or starting a small business?
Be softer on yourself; understand that growth is uncomfortable. There will be many days where you question if it’s even working or if you’re on the right path. I remind myself this every time I feel this way. It’s important to ask yourself, ‘What’s out of alignment in the world?’ and ‘How can my company help put it back into alignment?’ The answers will write themselves and will honestly surprise you.
What do you do to unwind?
Anything that requires attention to detail or repetitive actions. You can find me in the kitchen cooking or baking; I love the challenge of teaching myself new techniques. Pottery, embroidery, drawing portraits, watercolour painting or my new love of digital art. Equally the same feeling with reading, specifically anything to do with the brain, how our minds work, case studies on mental health and wellness, and the connection between disorder and genius. Writing poetry has been my most common way to unwind and let my healing come full circle. My hands have a mind of their own, and my mind is most at ease when it’s expressing itself or trying to understand the expression of others. Finding stillness in action.
What does wellbeing mean to you?
Wellness, to me, is understanding and supporting our individual needs at every stage of our journey without judgement. Having an open mind, heart, eyes and palms while listening to what they learn, see, and feel as they evolve. If we can all do this as individuals, it can and will impact us as a whole.
What is your favourite daily ritual and why?
It’s evolved to be a bit more time nowadays, but my morning and night skincare routine. Initially, it was the only few moments I had to myself. I love a good face massage, so I ensure to perhaps overindulge when applying skincare. I get up extra early to meditate and write before getting into my work emails and now (due to covid) home schooling my teenage son.
What are skincare and makeup go-to products that you just can’t live without?
I'm a creature of habit and very simple. Instead of beauty products, I enjoy getting lash extensions because it allowed me to enjoy my skincare routine with a no-makeup look for work (film industry hours were very long days). As a mom, this was crucial. The products I'm releasing are precisely what I've used for many, many years, so I can't go too in-depth, but since I've announced some of them, I'll speak about those. Every morning, I use a warm cloth to help open my pores. My diffuser on (usually nostalgic rosemary) provides a scent since my products are all fragrance-free. I'll use a good exfoliating cloth or Clarisonic with my cleanser, followed by a fast-absorbing serum (I'm more of a textually driven person and not keen on residue). I absolutely love a lotion mist. I'll spray it on my hands or my marble roller to then apply to my face; I'm not one for cream, so the mist is a must! I love a good mask; I often recommend charcoal ones as they magnetize dirt out of your pores, but I have a special mask currently in the works, and I can't wait to share!
What makes you feel most beautiful and why?
Words have weight, and beauty is to be understood as a combination of qualities that please the intellect or moral sense.
I shifted my definition of beauty by this standard and realized we should recognize our self-worth through the knowledge and acceptance of self-love. Learning and evolving is how I feel beautiful like a flower in full bloom.
How do you continue to stay inspired on a day-to-day-basis?
This is an interesting question. There are two factors, one being my son, motherhood. And the second being the weight of words. There isn’t a day where words aren’t being strung together in various ways in my mind. They always make me stop and think- and usually rush to write them down. I’m so moved by words, textures, and the ability to feel without touching anything. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. As for my son- this is the most incredible art form I’ve ever known. What isn’t more inspiring than having a hand in helping shape the lives of another? Watching him grow mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically is very rewarding and inspiring. We are so close in age and I’ve grown up at the same time so being able to watch him grow while I feel growth, it’s hard to explain how incredible that really is.
How do you find strength and balance in your life a mother and small business owner?
I love this question because when I ask myself, I don’t have an exact answer. I’ve never had the ability to map this out or the time to find strength or balance. There simply was no choice. The beauty in loss is the ability to be found has to equally exists. So, when I lost such a vital part of my teen years to figure out who I was or what I wanted to do, I found out just how strong we can be when put into a position that lacks choice. It’s been pure survival mode the last 14 years, and looking back, I thought this was how everyone’s life was. When I’m stressed, overwhelmed, or exhausted, he’s been my number one support reminding me just how loved and appreciated I am. He’s that calm voice that reminds me how to calm my breathing and that I, too, deserve a break. “I show up for you because you show up for me.” It’s incredible. He’s my moon, because in darkness he showed me light.
What does the future hold and what are your aspirations for your brand?
Where would you like it to be in 5-10 years?
This is just one step of many. I’m driven by honestly feeling our feelings and understanding our emotions. As a single teen mom, my goal is to grow in a direction where we can implement the dialogue we’ve started with skincare and self-care and continue it in the homes of anyone who needs it. Life doesn’t start or stop with skin, and I’m well aware there is a lot of work to do. I want to lift up single parents to help provide a workspace that ebbs and flows with our schedules as parents and help with the mental health aspect that exists in our homes, our minds, and our journeys. We have two products in R&D now and two more following those. In 5-10 years, our line will be out, and we’ll be able to continue to align with like-minded organizations such as SafeBAE and The Trevor Project. Being kind is free, and I will continue to explore more ways we can do so.